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Cell Death Differ. 2015 Feb;22(2):187-98. doi: 10.1038/cdd.2014.89. Epub 2014 Jul 4.

Regulation of hematopoietic and leukemic stem cells by the immune system.

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Tumor Immunology, Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
1] Tumor Immunology, Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland [2] Institute of Pathology, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
1] Tumor Immunology, Department of Clinical Research, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland [2] Department of Medical Oncology, Inselspital, Bern University Hospital and University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.


Hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) are rare, multipotent cells that generate via progenitor and precursor cells of all blood lineages. Similar to normal hematopoiesis, leukemia is also hierarchically organized and a subpopulation of leukemic cells, the leukemic stem cells (LSCs), is responsible for disease initiation and maintenance and gives rise to more differentiated malignant cells. Although genetically abnormal, LSCs share many characteristics with normal HSCs, including quiescence, multipotency and self-renewal. Normal HSCs reside in a specialized microenvironment in the bone marrow (BM), the so-called HSC niche that crucially regulates HSC survival and function. Many cell types including osteoblastic, perivascular, endothelial and mesenchymal cells contribute to the HSC niche. In addition, the BM functions as primary and secondary lymphoid organ and hosts various mature immune cell types, including T and B cells, dendritic cells and macrophages that contribute to the HSC niche. Signals derived from the HSC niche are necessary to regulate demand-adapted responses of HSCs and progenitor cells after BM stress or during infection. LSCs occupy similar niches and depend on signals from the BM microenvironment. However, in addition to the cell types that constitute the HSC niche during homeostasis, in leukemia the BM is infiltrated by activated leukemia-specific immune cells. Leukemic cells express different antigens that are able to activate CD4(+) and CD8(+) T cells. It is well documented that activated T cells can contribute to the control of leukemic cells and it was hoped that these cells may be able to target and eliminate the therapy-resistant LSCs. However, the actual interaction of leukemia-specific T cells with LSCs remains ill-defined. Paradoxically, many immune mechanisms that evolved to activate emergency hematopoiesis during infection may actually contribute to the expansion and differentiation of LSCs, promoting leukemia progression. In this review, we summarize mechanisms by which the immune system regulates HSCs and LSCs.

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